Killing suspect tired of ‘conviction machine’
Timothy “Chico” Destromp was beaten to death in his El Jebel apartment on Saturday night, Feb. 10, 2001. No one has been convicted yet for the crime.Russell Thompson, 42, a former fellow construction worker and friend of Destromp’s, was arrested that same night and initially confessed to the brutal beating.Soon after, he recanted. He represented himself in court and raised numerous questions about the investigation.Thompson went to trial in September 2002 for second-degree murder. A jury convicted him on the lesser charge of manslaughter. He appealed the conviction, claiming the prosecutor at the time didn’t disclose all evidence she would use at trial. A judge threw out the conviction.Thompson was scheduled to be tried again this month for manslaughter. Instead, he entered a guilty plea on Jan. 20. The Aspen Times tried and failed to reach Thompson for a story on his guilty plea.Thompson contacted the paper a short time later via e-mail and agreed to an e-mail interview. In the questions and answers that follow, Thompson refers to a forensic study. That study was performed as part of his defense.It also needs to be noted that Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said in an earlier story that the only concession given to Thompson was that the prosecutor wouldn’t seek a sentence of more than six years in prison. Thompson’s understanding is different, as he explains below.He is scheduled to be sentenced March 20 in Eagle County District Court.Scott CondonYou have insisted since soon after your arrest that you did not kill Destromp and have never acknowledged guilt. Has that changed?All I ever wanted was to learn the details of what really happened that night. So I asked for the reports of my case and was shocked to learn that nothing was as I had always assumed. I began to piece together and learn of the events of Feb. 10, 2001, while absorbing the harsh realities, and unimaginable sadness, that come with finding oneself being charged with murder.
The facts outlined in these police reports described a very different evening than the one I had, in the most vague of memories, assumed I had spent. As I read on, I realized the depth of my confusion, and I remember feeling the weight of emptiness that had been forced upon me by the manipulative coaching of investigators, who had chosen to conduct their duties with incompetent, cruel disregard for the facts. Accuracy is not an important attribute in Eagle County.It was at this point I discovered that Chico and I had not been alone that night, and that three other guys had been with us and had given statements to police. These statements vacillated from their being roommates of Chico’s, to that they had never even met Chico, to that they really did know Chico and that Chico was actually trying to fight them that night. In their statements, they changed the times that they were there on four separate occasions. These different versions included these three guys being present when Chico died to hours before.This made me very curious. I learned that police had found a lot of blood in the apartment upstairs – an apartment belonging to one of these other guys. The trail of bloody boot prints leading to this upstairs apartment did not match the tennis shoes I was wearing that night.The Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s crime-scene video includes a segment in which investigators state that they just could not believe I was the only suspect, a scenario concluded by the lack of supporting evidence, coupled with the massive amount of evidence present, that clearly depict the involvement of others. In the same video, they also stated that they believed the fight started in the apartment upstairs. This conclusion has been confirmed by the forensic study that was conducted. Again, Eagle County investigators chose to ignore these conclusions, in lieu of a more “easily attained” version.My public defender became angry when I asked why she had never mentioned these other guys. She stated that she was not going to mention these “mystery people,” and risk “upsetting” the DA, and that she had already worked out the deal with prosecutors. She stated she would be embarrassed to try to change it.The fact that I had no injuries, not even so much as a red mark, also bothered me. Chico’s hands were so badly injured that the pathologist testified that Chico had been “in one hell of a fight.” Who had Chico been hitting?I then learned that not a single one of the 147 bloody fingerprint locations, identified by the police in the two apartments, matched my own. The hair fibers collected did not match mine, nor did the DNA samples taken of the multiple blood types tested.I learned that all three of these other guys had been having sexual relationships with Chico’s live-in girlfriend. One of them, who lived in the upstairs apartment, had beaten Chico up before and had stated that if Chico ever beat her up again, he was going to kill Chico. Chico’s girlfriend testified to this fact. Chico did beat her up again – on the Wednesday prior to the day he was killed. It was these same three guys who were present that night and had changed their stories so many times.These guys implicated each other and questioned why the other(s) of them was lying about their presence at Chico’s that night, because each of them had certainly been there. They ordered a pizza that night with specific instructions to have it delivered to Chico’s house. At my trial, this pizza delivery person testified that he saw me six minutes before my call to 911. He testified that he had parked with his headlights on and his vehicle facing Chico’s door. He also had his flashlight on and could see me very well. He testified he saw no blood on me and did not see anything out of the ordinary. I believe these guys ordered a pizza and had it delivered to Chico’s house in an attempt to cover their guilt, so that someone other than them would witness my being there. In spite of the phone records showing where the call came from, they deny ordering this pizza.An ex-girlfriend of one of these guys has come forward and said that she helped make up an alibi of him being with her that night. She has said that she fabricated the alibi so he wouldn’t get into trouble.The forensic investigation, which took 11 months to complete, reports that there is no evidence indicating my involvement in Chico’s death. It also states that there are volumes of evidence that have been overlooked, or ignored, by police. This investigation includes evidence that was collected indicating someone, other than myself, was involved in Chico’s death. This same report states that the Eagle County prosecutors are hiding certain facts of this case in their attempt to win a conviction, rather than admitting error.
This case is the first murder investigation since the invention of the camera that does not include photographs of the victim as police found him at the scene. I had pictures of an ashtray, dog food, a trash can and a toilet, but none of Chico. Eagle County prosecutors later argued that they really did have pictures of Chico and presented as evidence 20 photographs of a young man who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a suicide victim 21 years younger than Chico. The prosecutors testified in court on several occasions that they were capable of convincing a jury that I was the person who caused the injuries to this unknown suicide victim. The independent forensic investigation determined this person to be someone other than Chico. It was after this finding that prosecutors began trying to keep the facts of the forensic investigation from being told to a jury.As witnessed during the trial, I was presented with a legal restriction that if I had taken the stand, testifying in my own defense, I would have been barred from mentioning “anything in regards to the truth.” I still have that document. I’ve kept it because most people cannot believe something like that could be legal; but it is, and it is a dirty trick prosecutors use on defendants to keep them from saying things that would be helpful in proving a defendant’s innocence.Has my guilt changed? No, it hasn’t.Why did you enter a guilty plea in January after four years of maintaining your innocence?I entered the guilty plea because by doing so, I will finally be allowed to get on with my life and put all of this behind me. I am tired. I am no longer able to defend myself against prosecutors who do not have the integrity to look at the facts. There is just too much at stake for me to continue trying to fight the good fight against a “conviction machine.”I have been forced to miss out on so many things as a result of this case. I miss my children. I want, so very much, to watch them graduate, get married and do whatever else they decide to do with their lives.Someone else can stand up for the sake of what is right and what is wrong. I no longer have the energy.Do you hope to make a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office before March 20?I have made a plea bargain with the DA’s office that guarantees I will spend no more than a few more months in prison if I just say in court that there is at least a remote chance that I could have been involved. To be away from the pressures of a courtroom, by merely saying something is remotely possible, is a small price to pay for gaining the remainder of my life.Was your ability to have a fair trial compromised? If so, how?
As I stated, there have been more restrictions placed upon what I would be allowed to show a jury.I would not have had the ability to show a jury any of the police reports and other investigative findings that help my case. The police who did the initial investigation now state that the videotape of the scene includes officers and detectives they cannot identify. There are segments of the tape in which the police now state that they do not know who was operating the camera, or which investigator was on camera, when segments helpful to proving my innocence were being filmed. They say they cannot identify who said certain things, even though they themselves are the individuals on camera. Because of this, the evidence is called hearsay, and thus, not admissible.I would not have been allowed to discuss the photographs of the suicide victim they claimed was Chico, or the fact that Chico was found to have been laying on top of a bloody knife that investigators forgot to collect into evidence. Items of evidence that were collected, catalogued and reported on have “mysteriously” disappeared.Even the findings of the independent forensic investigation would have been barred because prosecutors argued that the forensic investigation was not conducted that night. Isn’t it normally after something happens that a forensic investigation is conducted? Have you ever heard of ordering a forensic investigation for next Saturday at 7?Had I chosen to go ahead with trial, I would have faced the possibility of an additional 16 years in prison. I would have been barred from presenting most of the facts that have been uncovered in my case, including the fact that I was extremely intoxicated.Was my ability to have a fair trial compromised? Yes, how could anyone think otherwise?Please give a summary of what you think happened the night Destromp was beaten to death.I remember that Chico and I spent that Saturday afternoon and evening drinking and playing guitar. I know that at some point I passed out from drinking. I know from the police reports that, at some point that evening, three other guys showed up and began arguing and fighting with Chico. I don’t believe these guys intended to actually kill Chico, regardless of what they said, or they would have had a better plan to cover their presence. I believe they would have better planned what to do with his body, and that each of them would have had an alibi.I believe that after the pizza guy woke me up, I entered Chico’s kitchen area, either on my way to find him, or to use the restroom. I don’t know which. What lives in my memory is that I know that I found Chico sitting on his kitchen floor, leaning against the cabinets below his sink. I distinctly remember that he was trying to say something to me, but there was no voice coming out, only bubbles. I remember kneeling down in this pool of blood and holding him in my arms. I knew that he needed help right then. I knew that Chico did not have a phone, and I remember running into that snowy night toward a light in the distance. That light was someone’s back porch light and they allowed me inside their home to call the police.I have absolutely no memory of being in a fight with anyone. I believe that in my drunken state, I decided that the police would never believe I didn’t know what had happened to Chico. So, I concocted a story of defending a woman who Chico was beating up. I claimed he was beating her so badly that I had to rescue her from him. It was four and a half hours after this 911 call that my blood-alcohol content was taken and it came back at a level of 0.275. It is no mystery to me why the story I gave was so confused.I have no memory of anything else that I said to the police, only a videotape of me telling such a twisted, confused and rambling story of such a magnificent tale that I cannot believe that the police believed any of it. Nor can I believe detectives did not choose to detect the inconsistencies and impossibilities of this recounting; a story that included my telling police that I had been a semi-professional boxer, perhaps delivering such a punishment upon Chico, due to my vast training, that I did not realize how severely I had injured him. The truth is I have never had any training in a boxing ring.I believe that police felt as though they “had their guy,” and for that reason, felt as though they did not need to conduct a thorough investigation. This is why this investigation did not proceed until I was able to begin asking questions myself.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.